TROUBLE CITY

SCHWARTZBLOG: BREAKING BAD - "DEAD FREIGHT"

BlogsAl SchwartzComment

Schwartzblog archives This week’s cold open is short and simple, as we are introduced to a kid taking the dirt bike out tarantula hunting, which is one of those activities that sounds absolutely filthy until you realize it's literal.  This would be obtuse or confusing on another show, but I’ve been conditioned at this point to expect that all of BB’s seemingly arbitrary openings to pay off in a satisfying way (well, minus that one where the big reveal was that Hank through Tuco’s grill away).  And since I had been “spoiled” to the extent that the episode would involve a train heist, I was fairly certain as to the context in which the kid would reappear, if not the outcome when he did.

The show proper begins with a miniature heist before we get to the big one, as Walt manipulates his way into Hank’s office to plant bugs.  Oh, and I totally forgot to mention last week that Hank was promoted to a desk job as Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the ABQ office.  On a plot level, this gives them a little more justification to keep him from being hot on the Heisenberg trail, something the show constantly struggles to do (so as not to shatter the basic set up) without making him just come off as dense.  But it also sets Hank up as another potential contrast for Walt’s new role as the boss, in addition to Mike and the ghost of Gustavo Fring.  I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that in the coming weeks, we’ll see Hank’s managerial technique, while imperfect, demonstrated to be superior to Walt’s.

This is all to set up the moody, noir-ish sequence where the gang kidnaps Lydia and forces her to call Hank at gunpoint.  Or pistol point, as Mike fastidiously corrects, noting that he is “expecting precision here.”  This is the Mike I like best; cold, methodical, dryly funny and implacable without being an invincible paramilitary force unto himself.  It might have more impact if Lydia were a better defined or more sympathetic character, as Laura Fraser’s jittery performance has not done a lot to make us concerned for her fate.  Plus, she explains the concept of Dark Territory to Jesse with nary a mention of Steven Seagal or Eric Bogasian, which...come on, lady.  Anyway, the upshot of all of it is that the guys decide to rob a train, “like Jesse James,” the second time this year the outlaw has been name-dropped, and Walt clearly fancies himself an legend of that variety.

But two things to keep in mind about Jesse James.  One, as much as he may have stolen from the rich and given to the poor (probably none), he also killed people who got in his way or witnessed his crimes.  That obviously came into play sooner rather than later.  But the other thing is that James was shot in the back by a young member of his gang who had previously idolized him (superbly dramatized in 2007’s forgotten masterpiece, which opens with a stunningly gorgeous train robbery sequence of its own).  If the name is mentioned one more time I’m officially putting my bottom dollar on Jesse being the one to pull the trigger on Walt in the end.

The heist itself is simple but clever enough to work, and makes for a fun, exciting sequence.  My one quibble on the practical side of things is why they didn’t have the hoses and compressor set up and just covered in dirt or something before the train arrived, but that’s a minor point.  There’s also Walter’s refusal to pull the guys off early (what is 900 gallons of methylamine really going to do for them that 750 won’t?), but I think that could be justified by needing to make sure the right amount of water gets in so that the scales don’t tip off the chemical company.  He doesn’t say anything about that to Mike though.  So I look at it as an extension of the subtext I’ve been reading all season, that Walt feels insufficiently challenged by the simple process of cooking meth in the post-Gus era, which leads him to antagonize people like Mike and Skyler more overtly, or to manipulate Jesse into breaking up with Andrea as much to see if he can as  because she represents a serious threat to his freedom.  This is just one more example of his pushing things further than necessary to provide himself extra excitement.

Then the kid shows up, and Todd doesn’t something great and terrible.  Terrible because, well, he murders a child.  Great because it turns what had been a high-spirited romp of a heist (though I was pretty sure we wouldn’t be getting another of those so soon after the premiere) into something with lasting weight and consequence, and managed to be shocking even though I thought we were heading there from the cold open.  Most importantly, it creates some conflicts for our main characters that have to be addressed immediately, and not just because Walt is bored or doesn’t feel like cooking less or slower.  Jesse doesn’t take kindly to hurting kids, nor, one surmises, does Mike, who is not a fan of Walter to begin with.  We knew this combination was unstable, but the reactions have begun and I can’t wait to see how they play out.

For the next three weeks anyway.  Then...arrgh.

Estimated Profits: +$72000 - at least $10000 in prep costs and compensation for the train job = $~$62000

Murders - Emilio, Krazy 8, Jane, two of Gus’s dealers,  Gale, Gus, Tyrus, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, two other Fring goons, a poor kid who went tarantula hunting in the wrong stretch of desert (the felony murder rules of New Mexico and Arizona would hold Walt and Jesse liable for first degree murder, although only Todd could get the death penalty)

Lesser Included Offenses - Grand theft, kidnapping, assault

Collateral Damage - One innocent janitor loses his job and goes to jail on a bullshit marijuana charge.  Hank had to kill a guy, even if he was an insane, degenerate piece of filth who deserved to die, giving him fairly severe PTSD.  Combo was killed dealing for Walt.  Jane’s father’s life is utterly ruined.  167 passengers on two planes are dead.  Skyler is forced to become an accessory after the fact (or take down her son, sister and brother-in-law with Walt).  3 broken Pontiac Aztek windshields.  Jesse’s RV is destroyed. On their mission to kill Heisenberg, the Cousins kill 9 illegal immigrants and their coyote, an old woman with a handicap-accessible van, a grocery-shopping bystander, an Indian woman and the Reservation sheriff that investigates.  Also they shoot Hank multiple times, forcing him through a long, painful physical therapy process.  Andrea’s kid brother is murdered by Gus’s dealers due to trouble Jesse and Walt stirred up.  Jesse murders Gale, crushing him with guilt and destroying his hard-fought sobriety.  Gus murders Victor to send a message to Walt and Jesse.  Three Honduran workers get deported (or maybe worse).  Walt purposefully wrecks a car, straining an already-injured Hank’s neck in an unspecified fashion.  Ted Beneke breaks his neck fleeing from Heisenpire goons.  Brock is poisoned and nearly dies.  Tio blows himself up, but no one’s weeping for that vicious old fucker.  The staff of an industrial laundry is out of their jobs.  Dozens (hundreds?) of criminal prosecutions are compromised when the guys wreck the APD evidence locker.  Hank’s boss gets pushed out of his job for his failure to apprehend Fring or Heisenberg.  Herr Schuler, Chau and a low rent hitman get offed as Lydia scrambles to cover up Madrigal’s connection to Fring’s drug empire in the wake of his death.  Walt manipulates Jesse into breaking up with Andrea.  A young arachnophile is murdered to cover up the train job.

Sequences To Make Hitchcock Proud - The whole heist sequence is terrific, all leading up to that gutpunch at the end.  I expected it after the cold open, but my stomach just dropped out when the kid comes into focus.

Heisenberg Certainty Principle - “Out burying bodies?”  “Robbing a train.”

Best Lie - Walt turning on the waterworks to drive Hank out of his office so he can plant the bugs again contains just enough truth to sell the deeper lie, and alsoreally underscores just how good he’s gotten at deception in the past year.  I also let out an extremely childish giggle at the way it looked briefly like Hank caught him wanking as he hunched over and fiddled with the picture in his lap.

The Erlenmeyer Flask Is Mightier - Walt schools Todd on the relative density of aqueous methylamine and how much they can dilute it without arousing much suspicion.

Official Walter Jr. Breakfast Count: 15

We Are Done, Professionally - The guys are right on the verge of the murdering Lydia throughout the first 20 minutes, but decide to give her a pass even though she put out “a hit...like the mafia” on Mike.  It’s hard to imagine Walt, Mike, Jesse, and Todd all still working together next week

It’s The Little Things -  The way Lydia hisses “ASSHOLE” at Mike when the wiretap clears her of the GPS thing.  Mike telling Jesse “everyone is Meryl Streep with a gun to their head” in front of the last guy to hoodwink him at gunpoint.  The way the argument in Jesse’s house frames him as increasingly hemmed in by the bickering father figures on each side.   The shot of Heisenberg looking over the train tracks, complete with the proverbial black hat of a western villain.  The waves.